Mel B on her abusive relationship: "Choices were taken away from me for so long"

1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse in the UK in 2019.

Mel B coercive control
(Image credit: Getty Images)

1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse in the UK in 2019.

Mel B has long been honest about the ins and outs of her relationship with ex-husband Stephen Belafonte.

Since publishing her memoir Brutally Honest in 2018, in which she details the physical and emotional abuse Belafonte subjected her to, she's been an advocate for abuse victims and supported the charities helping those in need.

This week, starring in a new video for Women's Aid titled 'Love Should Not Hurt', the former Spice Girl singer speaks candidly about how abuse can often take more forms than you'd expect.

Chatting to The Guardian, she said that Belafonte's coercive control tactics made it harder for her to identify that she was being abused.

“It starts with tiny things [like] 'Oh, don’t wear that dress – I’ve bought you this dress,'" she shared.

“It wasn’t like: ‘Put this dress on!’ It was: ‘Look what I’ve bought for you! I saw you looking at it on Net-a-Porter.’ And you think: ‘Oh my God, that’s so sweet!” when actually they’re starting to take over everything.”

She continued to explain that her ex normally chose what colours she wore, too. “I didn’t even know what colour I liked any more because those choices were taken away from me for so long. And I just accepted it.

“For the first year when I left my ex, I would only wear white because I felt I was clearing myself of that," she added.

According to Women's Aid, coercive control is 'an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.'

"This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour," the website goes on.

2020's Crime Survey for England and Wales found 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in 2019 - 1.6 million women compared to 757,000 men.

Mel has spoken about her experience of coercive control before, back in 2018 in an interview with Cosmopolitan UK.

She shared:"I knew [his behaviour] was wrong the night we had an argument that led to physical abuse, but the emotional abuse - the coercive control - that was very difficult for me to figure out what was going on," she said at the time. "You end up blaming yourself."

She continued that it "chip[s] away at [you], without you even really realising."

The trial about Belafonte's abuse never went to court - it was settled privately.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of abuse, do head to the Women's Aid website for more information and the right support lines.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.